‘Friends’: Rea Hederman donates nearly 800 books to the library system at the request of Elta Johnston

With the help of an advisory board, Elta Johnston has been quietly working as president of the Jackson Friends of the Library since 2019.

Last year she wrote a letter to Rea Hederman, a Jackson native and editor of The New York Review of Books since 1984, and asked if he had any books he published that he could donate to the Friends of the Jackson Library, a non-profit organization. organization, for the shelves of the Jackson-Hinds Library System.

“He responded and said, ‘I’ll send you all the books I publish,'” said Johnston, a permanent resident of Jackson.

Hederman did just that, relying on The New York Review of Books’ book publishing division, New York Review Books. It publishes NYRB Classics, The New York Review Children’s Collection, NYRB Kids, New York Review Comics, and NYRB Poets.

“Last October we received over 800 books,” Johnston said. “They are masterpieces and treasures of the world. I don’t know of any other library system that has this collection. It is a unique collection.

Hederman, a graduate of Murrah High School, earned an MBA from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. He joined The Clarion Ledger, which his family then owned, in 1973 and served as city editor and managing editor before becoming editor in 1980. Under his leadership, the newspaper grew turned away from its conservative roots to execute “one of the most dramatic turnarounds in American journalism,” as The Washington Post describes it.

Johnston appreciates Hederman’s acknowledgment of his request.

“Rea has been so generous,” Johnston said. “He was involved with the New York Public Library. He understands the importance of libraries. He cares because he grew up using the library. He said he and Richard Ford, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who grew up in Jackson, used to go to the library after school.

Each of the books has a label on the inside of the cover indicating that it is a gift from the publisher of the New York Review of Books to the Jackson Friends of the Library.

Kimberly Corbett, who was then acting executive director of the library system, contributed to the donation, Johnston said.

Seven hundred and seventy-five of the books have been cataloged and are available on checkout and on interlibrary loan within the state, said Floyd Council, who became the system’s executive director in March.

Sixty-one of the 775 books have been borrowed since March, he said. A list of books is available on the library system website.

A longtime community volunteer, Johnston said the Friends’ main goal is to attract donations to its book fund, which provides resources to the library system. The Community Foundation of Mississippi holds the funds in an account named Jackson Friends of the Library Book Fund.

For the past several years, the Friends have donated funds to the library system for the purchase of Ezra Jack Keats Award-winning books, Johnston said. These books can be found in all system libraries.

The Ezra Jack Keats Award celebrates emerging picture book authors and illustrators who reflect the universal qualities of childhood and the multicultural nature of the world. The award, named for children’s book author and illustrator Keats (1916-1983), is awarded annually to an outstanding new writer and illustrator by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation in partnership with the Children’s Literature Collection of Grummond from the University of Southern Mississippi.

The Friends also replaced and added books to the Wells collection that were lost or damaged. Phyllis Wells, a Jackson resident and avid reader who died in 1998, left $25,000 to Friends.

“Each year, the Wells collection is updated with award-winning books not already in the library’s holdings,” Johnston said.

A three-ring binder in the Morris Library lists books in the Wells collection, Johnston said.

Friends also provided $1,000 to the system to purchase graphic novels and contributed $500 to purchase anti-racism books in conjunction with the efforts of the Mississippi Humanities Council.

“We purchased furniture for the kids’ area at the Medgar Evers Library,” Johnston said. “We do all kinds of things. Over the past two years, we have donated a total of $1,500 to support the Summer Reading Program.

Friends “do not see themselves as the future of the library system,” Johnston said, but as providing resources for the system.

“What we hope is that the library system will be re-energized and revitalized and will have a new branch and that will bring in new young people who will become the future of the library,” she said. “We look forward to working with Mr. (Floyd) Council. He has a stimulating job and we want to support his efforts to move forward.

Johnston said a “wonderful group of people” helped her, including Lynn Evans, secretary; Dick Turner, treasurer; Seetha Srinivasan, director emeritus of the University Press of Mississippi; and writer and editor Marion Barnwell.

Johnston said she welcomes questions about Friends and her book fund. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Even in the age of digital communication, libraries are still needed, said Johnston, who grew up in Jackson and fondly remembers walking to the old downtown library after taking classes. at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, which was then located on North State Street.

“It fueled my energy and my relentless appreciation for librarians and the public library,” she said. “I know libraries change and have to keep up with changing needs, but they’re still important.”

About Herbert L. Leonard

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